Monthly Archives: January 2014

Echoes of Sam

…and where was Sam before Echoes of Balance began?

ECHOES OF SAM

It was getting cold out, he supposed. He didn’t really know anymore, or at least, he didn’t actively know. His senses were sharp enough to feel the vibrations of a rain drop hitting a puddle, not that he cared to pay attention to that, either.  It didn’t help him any. Sure, it had been interesting 30 years ago when he first changed, but if he didn’t need it for survival… well. What was the point?

        Regardless, he pulled the thin black jacket tighter around his torso. He didn’t need the warmth; he needed the image. That was what survival required, that was what survival had always required, be it thirty years ago when he had been human or now that he was what he was.

        Sam’s memories of Before were cloudy, but he remembered having a similar hunger to the one he felt now. It was a deep, hollow feeling that never quite ceased because he never quite had what he needed. Before, those things had been a place to sleep, or food, or money. Now it was just… well.

        Now it was just survival.

        It was one of the few things his Maker had taught him before his demise. Rule number one, make sure you blend it.

        Sam snorted. As if his creator had ever followed his own rules; if he had, he wouldn’t have picked such foolish fights in towns where he was well known. Maybe he would still be alive, but instead… well.

        Never linger. That was a rule, too, never linger. Sam had followed that rule when he was still human, as well. He remembered train cars, dimly, in the depths of his mind. Mostly empty and with a biting breeze that might have felt like the biting breeze coasting in on the crisp fall air now. He wouldn’t know; he tried to ignore the feeling then and he didn’t care now.

        He only cared about not lingering. He was good at it, really. Even now, his feet carried him without his mind or the rest of his body being very aware of the direction they were headed. Sam had been in this town before, this small little place that his maker used to love to go.

        Used to love to linger.

        It was the smartest decision, maybe, but no one knew him here. His long gone maker, sure. But Sam?

        Nameless.

        Faceless.

        Wanderlust, survival key point.

        Sam would be off soon, anyway. He always was. He assumed it came with what he was, but there was always a stirring in him that was not quite satisfied with where he was, with what he had. A vein under his lips and he still couldn’t seem to care. It made him irritable and frustrated; he found his anger was quick to rise, now, and the times he saw red… it was a lot to contain.

        He had heard from others that there were certain traits passed down in the blood, but his creator hadn’t been around to explain that, either. So he had to guess that maybe anger was one of them. Anger would certainly why his maker had not been particularly gifted at the act of survival, of course, but Sam knew better.

        He knew that survival was all that mattered.

        Presently, he brushed a dark lock of hair away from his pale forehead and squinted up at where his feet had taken him. It was a far edge of town, some ramshackle dive bar he had been to only once before. A vampire bar, the classless type that attracted all sorts of supernatural riffraff. The occasional human, too, but for one reason or another they were never around for long.

        It wasn’t the best place for someone in search of survival, but it certainly wasn’t the worst, either. At least not when the sun was only just dipping below the horizon. It would be mostly empty for hours yet, he knew. So he gave in to the wanderlust wiggle in his gut and pushed open the door.

        The place was windowless and even in the low light, it was easy to see it was in a state of disrepair. Many of the upholstered chairs had been patched with shiny silver duct tape, and few seemed to fill their original matched sets. A pool table off to one side, the best lit area of the place, had noticeable scuffs threatening to become full blown holes in the felting.

        As he had predicted, the place was near empty. A burly barkeep was lounging languidly against the far corner of the bar. He was an easy read: vampire. The pool table currently housed a were-something, the stench of fur and dirt all over him despite his human appearance, and a shifter, both focused far too heavily on the colored balls spinning on the table.

        He scanned the bar again. No humans yet, just… In a back corner, tucked away on her own, was the sharp feel of a different sort of presence. It was one that he recognized only vaguely, in passing, because it was something that survivors avoided at all cost.

        Witch.

        Witches were not, of course, hunters by trade. In fact, very few lines still held those ways, but it was better safe than sorry in most cases. A witch could gain the upper hand in a fight easily, and they had ways that could find you. He didn’t like it one bit, he hadn’t liked the idea of it when his maker had first explained to him their existence, and he liked it even less when his creator explained that most witches were hunters.

        Killers. The enemy.

        He repressed the shiver that demanded to shiver down his spine. This witch was least likely to be dangerous, and the last thing he wanted was to look weak. No one else in the bar seemed bothered, and she certainly looked non threatening: a skinny thing in a white slip of a dress, no jacket or coat despite the cold outdoors. She was barefoot, as well, another confirmation that she was far from human.

        Rule number one, blend in.

        Her dark hair fell heavy in front of her eyes, which were currently downcast at her drink as she spun a cocktail straw around and around in the ice. She was chewing her bottom lip, turning it cherry red.

        It made Sam’s stomach turn. But that wasn’t for him – humans only, that was the rule, even when his stomach demanded otherwise.

        He gave a nod to the bartender and shuffled to the sagging couch on the back wall, flopping into it to watch the pool players debate the legality of a move.  He didn’t much want the view, but it allowed him to keep the witch in his periphery. And it was better than getting a drink. He knew from his last venture that there was nothing exotic on the bar menu; they relied on clientele for those sorts of drinks.

        He had been watching for twenty minutes as the game began to wind down – two grown men now fighting over who could hit an eight ball – when he realized that the woman in the white slip dress had left his range of vision. The realization struck almost as soon as a warm body bumped the side of his leg.

        The witch stuck her arm out for balance, her fingertips brushing over his as she teetered forward. He had never made contact with a witch before: it felt like static, and then it was gone.

        “Sorry, pet,” she crooned in a silky smooth voice. “I’ll be more careful next time.” And with that, she had stepped passed him and was nearly at the pool table.

        His stomach stirred, and something of that empty hollow hunger seemed to groan.

        Rule number one, he thought, grinding his teeth. Be a survivor.

        He would need to move to another town soon.

 

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ECHOES OF MIKHAIL

Mikhail, several months before the events in Echoes of Balance. Enjoy the bonus material!

“Is it typical for your sort to come back to one place this often?” The voice was as soft as the careful footsteps that had preceded it through the foliage.

        Mikhail had been aware of the footsteps for awhile – they picked up about two miles into his walk through this particular forest, one he knew well, and they had paced him until boredom brought them closer. They didn’t worry him. As his rounds had showed, this patch of land was safe and desolate save for the usual inhabitants.

        “Thought I’d check in,” he grunted, glancing over his shoulder to the figure carefully stepping over a patch of brambles. Though it had been something on four legs tracking him before, this person was quite human.

        She was roughly Mikhail’s height, and though she was slight, the thick leathers that wrapped her torso and legs made her look sturdy, somehow. Her hair hung wild about her face, her cheeks pink tinted and wind whipped as if much of her life was spent outdoors. Though they had been in the forest for some time, her feet were bare.

        “Everything is the same as it was last month. And the one before that, and the one before that,” the woman said calmly, crossing her arms over her chest. A few dark inked tattoos snaked about her arms: a few of them seemed to match the ones that were stamped into Mikhail’s own biceps.

        He sighed, turning his gaze forward again. “Things seemed… unbalanced.”

        “And you assumed that meant you would need to come here? These things you always speak of, they pointed you here?”

        Mikhail rolled his eyes, turning to face her. “No, but – “

        “But you were worried,” she cut in, her posture remaining rigid. “Were there signs? Are we in danger?”

        He ran a hand through his shaggy hair, glancing down at the dirt. “What starts will spread.”

        The woman tilted her head to the side. “So that’s a no, then.”

        “Anja –“

        “It’s been a decade, Mikhail. Several decades, in fact. What happened was horrible, but she’s been gone. I know you miss her, but we’re not helpless. And you sticking around, waiting to save us? That’s not going to bring her back.”

        He raised his gaze to meet her. “Are you telling me I’m not welcome?”

        She sighed, taking a few steps to close the gap between them. “You always have friends amongst us, Mikhail. You know that. But you also have your own family, your own sister, your own kind, your responsibilities…” Anja let it trail off there.

        Mikhail pressed a smile onto his lips. “Right as usual, Anja.”

        “Go home, Mikhail,” she said, the corners of her lips twitching upwards. “Make it so we actually miss you before you show up again.”

        He gave a nod. Anja tossed her hair and smiled in earnest before turning her back to him, stepping into the flora once more. He watched her retreat – watched her shadow melt into the trees – before he ever thought to move.

        Go home, Mikhail. That would be easy if any Naimei knew where home was.

 

Stay tuned! More Coming Soon.

 

 

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Last Stop on the Blog Tour

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A month ago today Echoes of Balance was released via REUTS Publishing. It’s crazy – it still seems so surreal that something I wrote is now being read by other people. I want to take a second to thank everyone at REUTS and everyone who posted a blog for the tour and just everyone generally, for being so supportive and amazing and for reading my work. This post is a day late because it’s really hard to be a writer who also works, especially in a high stress, busy job. But I still come home at the end of the day and power up Twitter and see some nice words and supportive folk and I so dig it. So that being said, y’all have earned yourselves some bonus content – lots of bonus content.

So with that being said, here is what Gregory Ducante was up to in the months preceding the events in Echoes:

Echoes of Ducante

From afar, Ducante knew the sleepy town of Molton didn’t look like much of an investment opportunity. It was, of course, why it suited his needs so perfectly. The real estate was relatively inexpensive, and the sleepy residents were all too eager to try something new. And then there was the more underground clientele that he banked on attracting.

                         A month after his new opening, he was pleased to see that his revenue stream was already solidly in the black: both monetarily and educationally. None of it was particularly newsworthy; roughly what he had expected from a small city and the range of powerful beings it could hold. That was what he had thought a month in.

                         One day later, however, and his opinions had changed.

                         He had all but forgotten the smell that invaded the town. It was rare in his big-city outposts, unheard of in other small town staples, all but banned from his Selvmar location. But here it was.

                         In Molton.

                         He expected it to pass quickly, and in that initial week, it did. It lingered, never close enough to his bar to feel threatening, and then vanished for another month.

                         And then it returned. This time, for longer. It left again – and then it returned, even longer, this time, and this faithful day, it stayed.

                         It still never came near his bar. It must have been young and undertrained, or perhaps it never expected to find someone like Ducante in such a mild mannered place. He imagined that it might be some of the draw of Molton for one of those. Overall, though, he tried not to focus on it. It stayed away, and focus only brought the sharp realization that the smell was not just recognizable:

                         It was familiar.

                         When the presence and stench that came with it began to linger in Molton on a more permanent basis, Ducante turned to his clientele. He was frustrated to find that they were particularly useless: they either had no idea, or they brought back vague stories of some sort of hunter. A witch, maybe, and a pretty one at that.

                         “Helpful,” Ducante growled sardonically, twitching a stack of papers behind the bar.

                         His staff, being especially standard and dramatically mediocre, were also of no help. It became something of a pet peeve, this distant presence that never came close enough for him to gather anything more but the tangy stench of raw power.

                         It became clear, eventually, that if he wanted to know more, he would have to do so himself. It was particularly unbecoming: he hadn’t needed this level of sneakery in years, and he much preferred his space behind the bar than one in the thick of things.

                         Ducante decided that he would investigate on a Thursday. The presence was always on the far side of town, the side near the old, overgrown forest, and he saw no reason why she wouldn’t be there – picking off rogues, no doubt – on that day, the same as any other.

                         But then, as he twitched more papers into neat stacks, he felt it. He smelled it. Closer, this time, in the city proper. He glanced around the bar, at his nervous bartender and his morose looking bouncer. It would make no difference, business wise, if he were to slip out.

                         And so he did, quickly out the back door.

                         The smell got stronger as he twisted around blocks and blocks. It seemed to be coming from the other side of a building through a narrow alley, which he ducked down quickly, clinging to the shadows like bed sheets on a cold night.  He swathed himself in them careful as he crept closer, closer, the slight figure coming into view  at the other mouth between the two buildings.

                         She had just finished her work, the work all his clientele had warned him about, and was carefully looking over the body of a felled vampire before her.

                         For a moment, Ducante felt a certain iciness settle over him. From afar, she looked the same. The same as the last time, all those years ago, but then… but then she turned, and no. She was different, she was new. She wiped her knife at her jeans mildly and he took it in: she was pretty, yes, but the eyes were different, and the hair. The nose, just slightly so.

                         “Interesting,” he murumured, sinking back into the shadows. “Very interesting.” The corner of his lips twisted up into a smile. “I look forward to meeting you, Naimei.”

And what else do we have…? Oh, a giveaway, you say? That sounds about right. And you’re sick of just getting a BOOK for your troubles? Alright, alright. I got you. This giveaway, ending February 1st, will net you a paperback copy of Echoes of Balance (can we give Ashley from REUTS some big ups for that cover?) and a hand drawn Mucha-esque portrait of Chloe. Drawn by moi. ‘Cause art school.

Enter the giveaway here.

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